In an extremely difficult fundraising environment for early-stage cleantech companies, Solantro Semiconductor, a renewables-focused power conversion chipset vendor, raised $11 million in venture capital. The funding came from existing investors Black Coral Capital, BDC, Presidio Ventures, Clean Energy Venture Group and EDC, as well as new investor Inerjys Ventures.
As we recently reported, Antoine Paquin, CEO of Ontario, Canada- and Silicon Valley-based Solantro, believes Moore's law can lower the cost of solar power electronics and that horizontal integration in inverters will yield more efficient designs that leverage the scalability of silicon and reduce cost in solar and storage applications.
Solantro designs and builds chipsets for use with solar module power electronics, which include microinverters from firms such as Enphase or SolarBridge (acquired by SunPower) and DC optimizers from firms such as SolarEdge or Tigo. The CEO suggests that the same chipset-based silicon integration of discrete electronic components that enabled cheap cellphones will enable lower-cost module-level solar panel electronics.
In 2012 Solantro raised a $10 million round A and also won $3.8 million from Sustainable Development Technology Canada for a project it called "Self-Forming, Dynamically Scalable, Renewable Energy Nano-Grids."
Firms such as Volterra (with an embedded cell-string optimizer), Dragonfly Systems (acquired by SunPower), Empower Micro (with an AC series architecture as in Kaco's new "Ultraverter" product) are also looking to stake a claim in the solar module-level chipset business. GTM Research includes these firms under the rubric of "second-generation power electronics players."
Solantro's CEO recently said that the firm has "working silicon" and "qualified silicon in production." He noted that the technology is applicable to microinverters, but also to larger inverters and battery-based energy storage. Paquin predicts that the shift to new switching materials and higher frequency designs will be driven by non-incumbent players looking for an advantage -- and a way to topple the giants.
He commented to GTM today: "We have over 20 active customers designing with our chipsets across multiple platforms/verticals," including "Celestica and Outback," adding, "Our sales target this year is about $8 million, and we are ramping up nicely."
He characterizes the current landscape as the "toughest fundraising environment of my life" on his LinkedIn page, noting, "This will make an interesting read when I publish my first book. I have concluded that humans live more in fear than in embracing the opportunity to shape the future."